State police say 44-year-old Joseph Ellis of New London was the head of a criminal enterprise in which participants used fraudulent Discover credit cards to obtain more than $362,000 in cash advances, gift cards and merchandise from local businesses last year, between September and December.
Ellis, of 158 Hawthorne Drive, Apt. 13-E, his nephew, Michael Hyslop, 28, of 70 Farmington Ave., Apt. 1-E, were charged last month with first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny.
Ellis' daughter, Shauntay Ellis, 25, of 206-208 Shaw St., also is implicated in the scheme, according to an arrest warrant affidavit prepared by Detective John Patterson of the state police Casino Licensing & Operations Unit. She is currently incarcerated on multiple forgery, larceny and credit card theft charges, but it is not clear whether she has been charged in the Discover case.
According to the warrant, state police began investigating on Dec. 28 after 25-year-old Alice Phillips and 41-year-old Ricky Cordero, both of New London, attempted to use counterfeit Discover cards for transactions at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. Phillips and Cordero are both facing larceny charges.
The investigation led state police to Discover Corporate Security Field Investigator Robert Delaney, who provided a list of suspected fraudulent credit card numbers, and said that Phillips, Cordero and at least four others used counterfeit cards to obtain $164,516 in cash advances from the casinos. The offenders were captured on surveillance video using cards bearing their real names with account numbers belonging to innocent victims from across the country, according to the warrant.
The magnetic stripes on the cards were inoperable, so the cashiers would ask for identification from the user before manually entering the transactions, according to the warrant.
The investigators found that Joseph and Shauntay Ellis would obtain personal information from the known members of the criminal enterprise and provide them with counterfeit credit cards.
The Discover officials told state police that fraudulent cards had been used to purchase gift cards and goods at stores throughout New London County. On Feb. 12, New London police were called to the Cumberland Farms store on Montauk Avenue, where the clerk said a group would come into the store several times a day using fraudulent Discover cards to buy gift cards. Surveillance video from the store shows Cordero and Joseph Ellis buying groceries and several $100 Cumberland Farms gift cards using the counterfeit credit cards.
On Feb. 10, Ellis used four $400 Kohl's gift cards to purchase a $1,300 diamond ring for his girlfriend, Michelle Goosby, at the Groton Kohl's, according to the warrant.
The total loss from the scam, as of March 5, was $326,407, according to the warrant.
Ellis appeared in court Tuesday, where his case was continued just two days while he works out legal representation and other matters. He was acquitted in a federal drug-trafficking case in 2010 involving several other New London residents but is wanted in Louisiana, where authorities said he was arrested during a traffic stop with 700 grams of cocaine that he had purchased in Texas.
New London prosecutor Lawrence J. Tytla said the state is not likely to allow Ellis' extradition to Louisiana when he is facing such serious charges here. Meanwhile, Ellis' family has posted $250,000 in bonds and is trying to come up with another $100,000 needed to free him while his case is pending.